Late-period George Lucas doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence, so the late 2014 announcement that an animated fantasy with a story by Lucas would hit theaters in January mostly just had the world bracing for how bad it would be. The answer: pretty bad. Critics are calling “Strange Magic’s” story derivative and its character designs uninteresting, also noting that the film’s mix-and-match approach to fantasy (from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “Beauty and the Beast”) ends up giving the film mixed messages. But the real point of interest is the fact that “Strange Magic” is an animated jukebox musical, with songs like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “Strange Magic” selected by Lucas and sung karaoke-style by the cast. Anyone who’s been waiting for an animated Disney/Shakespeare/”Glee” hybrid, your time has finally come.
“Strange Magic” is now playing in theaters.
Justin Chang, Variety
If you’ve ever longed for a movie with all the insistent life lessons of a Disney fairy tale, the tacky visual excesses of digital-era George Lucas, and enough glorified karaoke covers to fill half a season of “Glee,” then you may want to treat yourself to the altogether perplexing animated brew that is “Strange Magic.” Everyone else can just imagine a CG cartoon mash-up of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Arthur and the Invisibles” and “American Idol” populated by extras from the Mos Eisley Cantina, and they’ll pretty much get the idea. An insipid byproduct of the Disney-Lucasfilm merger that looks to attract a fraction (if that) of the audience for this year’s “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” this noisy, unappealing children’s fantasy fails to distinguish itself among January’s many, many reasons to steer clear of the multiplex. Read more.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
As for the animation itself, the backgrounds are stunning, with every spider web, clump of moss and falling leaf giving a sense of lush, natural vitality. The characters don’t fare as well — the humanoid fairies and elves all have that creepy rubber-face that sank motion-capture movies like “Mars Needs Moms.” The lizards and goblins, to say nothing of the supposedly fearsome Bog King, actually come off cuter and less disturbing than their counterparts who are stuck in the wrong neighborhood of the Uncanny Valley. Read more.
Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
Aside from an amusingly digressive take on the game of telephone, and an inspired use of the “rah-rah-ah-ah-ah-ah” from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” as an echo of Roland’s army marching toward the Bog King’s lair, “Strange Magic” remains exasperating in its contradictions. Though it’s been pitched to audiences as a “Beauty and the Beast” story where the Beast doesn’t change and “Star Wars” for girls, the film transmits more mixed messages than it does anything remotely resembling joy, depicting its characters nearly upchucking their way through the story’s romantic resolution and, worse, spuriously defining Marianne’s sense of independence—essentially an impromptu goth-girl-with-a-sword makeover—exclusively in relation to men. Read more.
Jesse Hassenger, The A.V. Club
In some ways, “Strange Magic” represents a mild victory for quantity over quality; none of the musical performances are particularly memorable on their own, but the sheer volume of them becomes winning—as does the mixed-up, sing-song haplessness of all the characters, even Marianne’s token warrior fairy. The whimsical tone bounces through some potentially dicey ideas, like how its morality about true, non-superficial love applies mostly to weird-looking males, never tested on female characters who look less than doll-ready. The moral works for the movie itself, though: Strange Magic isn’t as traditionally attractive as other big-budget cartoons, and that’s okay. Read more.
Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times
Whether the movie dazzles the ear is another matter. “Strange Magic” employs a parade of pop-music covers to do its screenplay’s heavy lifting. Said to be inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the film plays more like “Avatar” scored to a karaoke competition. Read more.
Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
A shrill, garish hodgepodge of familiar elements from other animated vehicles (most evidently 2013’s “Epic”), there’s virtually nothing about this forced, fractured fairy tale that feels remotely fresh or involving. Read more.
Betsy Sharkey, The Los Angeles Times
Listening to “Strange Magic” — because you do find yourself listening at least as much as watching — it’s as if Lucas handed over a list of his favorite romantic pop ballads (he did choose the songs) then sketched out his story idea of a kingdom divided (Lucas gets that credit too). With colorful beauties on one side and beasties on the other, the endgame is set up to overcome all differences with, cue music, a “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Read more.